Perusing the Fiction Aisles


So I was at a Christian bookstore Saturday and had about three hours to peruse the fiction aisles. Oh, yeah, I was there doing a book signing . . . but that’s another story and one I won’t get into here. Bottom line, I had three hours to peruse the aisles.

Here’s what I found: Romance and Amish fiction are hot. I don’t mean just popular-hot, I mean scorching-hot, like there’s-no-competition-hot. Yeah, yeah, yeah, nothing new there. Actually, though, I went deeper than that. I counted. I went through two full aisles of Christian fiction and numbered the titles (it was a very slow signing and I had lots of time on my hands).

Here’s the results:

Contemporary Romance/Historical Romance/Amish . . . 180
Romantic Suspense/Suspense/Thriller/Mystery/Horror/Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Everything in-between . . . 76

How do you compete with that? How does a horror/suspense writer get his title noticed among the forest of romance and Amish (and Amish romance)?

I’m not knocking romance or Amish fiction. People like what they like. And I’m not knocking the bookstores for stocking so much of it. Right now, it’s a cash cow and the book business is about making money. What I’m wracking my mind over is how to get new readers interested in my books, how to get them noticed.

Hey, I’m open for ideas.

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About mikedellosso

Mike Dellosso is an author of wide-eyed suspense. He writes stories that not only entertain but enlighten.

Posted on May 23, 2010, in Writing Life. Bookmark the permalink. 21 Comments.

  1. You and every other novelist who writes anything but the overwhelming categories you described, Mike. How do the niche novels get attention? Believe it or not, my version of “romance” novels aren’t hot like the sweet little romances that service those who also read the Amish fiction and historical novels. And, like you, I’m not bad-mouthing those books or authors or their readers. But for those of us who would quite frankly rather not read at all than read those books, we’d like to see more hype to our genres–and allotted space.

    Let me know what you learn, Mike.

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  2. My two cents worth: I love suspense more than romance. However, the suspense/thriller needs to stay Biblical with some romance thrown in. If suspense/thrillers turn paranormal, I’m out of here. And that’s where I see a fair share turning to. I want a suspense novel that teaches me some good spiritual truths, not just page turners. Cut the paranormal and get back to a Scriptural basis that speaks to the heart.

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  3. We don’t have Amish folk here in NZ 😉 BTW just finished Scream – looking forward for Darlington Woods…

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  4. Why not contribute to the cash cow while still writing what you love? In a nutshell, write a gripping suspense novel with some Amish characters (mixed with plain) in or near an Amish location (that’s your setting), and throw in at least a hint of romance with your main characters (plain people trying to solve an Amish mystery)… strong willed and focused on their mission but don’t want to give in to the love game… 3 genres mixed into one story.

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  5. I’m the seller!! I carry what sells. May I tell you how tired I am of AMISH????? My customers are Public Libraries. May I tell you how tired THEY are of Amish? My personal preference is suspense. Romance is OK if it’s subtle – not the plot. I’m with Linda, I’m not fond of the paranormal. I love legal. As a seller, suspense does sell, but not ones with dark covers – or not heave on the paranormal. Start to scream (pun intended) at your publisher to give you “normal” covers. Public library buyers look at the cover and if it’s too “dark” it goes on the “No” pile. Robert Whitlow (as an example) sells for me – check out his covers.

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  6. I think so much of this relates back to the genre (or really, sub-genres) of “Christian fiction.” I spent about an hour in my local B&N this Saturday. It’s a big store. The “Religious / Inspirational Fiction” section consists of a half-aisle. A half-aisle. Like the store you mention, the titles tilt the same, with a preponderance toward romance / women’s fiction and everything else sprinkled in. In contrast, the Suspense / Horror / Speculative sections of B&N consists of 4-5 full aisles. So while romance / women’s fiction still has the share of the general market, your genre (supernatural suspense / horror) has far more offerings outside the “Religious Fiction” enclave.

    All that to say: The moment we attach the label “Christian” to anything, it narrows our audience appeal by (I’m guessing) about 75 to 90%. Furthermore, the expectations Christians bring to their fiction is quite different than those brought by the general reader — expectations that shaped what you saw on the shelves. So while I don’t begrudge Romance and Amish lit, I think it’s indicative of the ultra conservative tilt (and a missiological muddiness) that exists in Christian publishing. Great topic, Mike.

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    • So the question becomes, if I want to keep writing horror/suspense with a Christian message how do I get it to penetrate that land outside the secure walls of Christian fiction? The ever-present question for so many of us . . .

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  7. I’m a buyer! I can see where Doris is coming from but look at what is currently big in Hollywood… Twilight saga, Harry Potter… (ad nauseam). Occult/supernatural titles are big business. LIGHT THE DARKNESS MIKE!

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  8. How about writing a Amish vampire mystery romance thriller……jK. Mike, just keep writing what God has laid on your heart, don’t worry about anything else. Being in the center of His will is the best place for you, no matter if sometimes the grass looks greener somewhere else.

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  9. I wish I knew an answer to this question, because I would love to see more Suspense, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Horror, Thriller, and Mystery books that are low on the Romance these are big in the non-Christian market and I would like to see more with Christian points of view. I’m glad those who like Romance and are Christians have an abundance of books to read without filling their heads with filth. However I would like the same, and unlike the romance the filth in my genres of choose are not as evident at first glance you have to really pay attention the the authors underlying message. Also Mike don’t change a thing about your writing I love your books the way they are covers and all, if you compromise in one area you might as well compromise in all. Plus I would consider an author changing the way he does his books so he can get more sold distasteful and wrong. The same as bands who have softer radio cuts of songs just so they can get radio play and get their name out, I don’t know how many times I have had friends tell me they love this or that band because they have heard their song on klove or similar style station, then they buy the CC and I inherit it because they found the band was too hard for them.

    Those of us who read your style of books love that we finally have one more author catering to us and not the money making Amish Romance (nothing wrong with of course)so for now the best way to get your name out there is word of mouth and the different blogs and online niche mags that cater to those of us that the bookstores think are a small audience.

    But this is just my 2 cents

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    • Reenie, I’m right with you. I’d love to see more attention paid to suspense/horror/supernatural/etc. as well. It’s interesting how the Christian market and what it likes is in no way reflective of the general market. Aren’t there Christians like yourself reading those general market books and wishing there was a Christian alternative? Or do they know about the Christian alternatives and think them inferior (like was the case with “Christian rock” in the 80’s and 90’s)? Any time I bring this subject up it leads to more questions than answers. Grrr.

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  10. I think the key is that the Amish Fiction niche is huge for Christian bookstores. This is where the ladies who love it go to shop for books. Not so much online or at Borders or B&N. At the declining Christian bookstores. At the Borders in my area, the “Religious” fiction is fairly equally dispersed in a hidden half aisle towards the back of the store. If any genre dominates this area, it’s historical. There are actually more Ted Dekker novels there than Karen Kingsbury’s, which is quite a statement for his publisher.

    Having seen the ridiculous reactions to Christian books by those people who apparently can’t read copy explaining what a book is about (in regard to Jim Rubart’s download of Rooms on Kindle), I can imagine the complaints the secular bookstores might receive from readers who happened to pick out a “Christian” novel on the shelf mixed in with the secular novels . . .

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    • Yes, those awful Christian propagandists! You’re right, though, Nicole. On Borders.com you can search locations for specific titles and it seems the majority of Borders across the country carry Darlington Woods. I’m having a hard time finding Christian bookstores that stock it. Thanks, my people . . .

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  11. Here’s another interesting factoid. On the recent fiction CBA bestseller list, 15 of the top 20 were romance or Amish. And how many were suspense? Two. Dekker’s latest and Tim LaHaye’s latest apocalyptic novel. But this is beating a dead horse now . . .

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  12. Write the stories God has given you to share, Mike. God will take care of the rest. Promise!!

    But that you already know quite well!! That’s why your stories are soooo awesome!!

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  13. Why, exactly, does Christian spec-fic have to be an “alternative?” I like good stories, and the best ones just strangely, coincidentally happen to be the ones that intentionally or accidentally reveal truth beyond the material – American Gods, LOTR, ‘Salem’s Lot, Odd Thomas, Demon: A Memoir, To Your Scattered Bodies Go, The Man in the High Castle, War in Heaven, By Darkness Hid, Thr3e, Weaveworld, and, ahem, Darlington Woods…

    Christians need to be fighting for great works to join those ranks, not struggling to wedge into the minority at Family Christian, where they will be lucky to be dismissed without a vague complaint about the “occult” by a well-meaning patron. And as for mixing about with those books that truly are “bad” (theological, occultically, whatever), well, I’d say, what’s wrong with being a little salt for that rotten meat?

    In fact, isn’t that where the salt should fall most of all? Don’t give up the ship, and never give the devil a foothold, sez me. But what do I know? I’m just one of those readers of weird things! 🙂

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    • I hear you loud and clear. Problem is, no matter what we write or how we package it, to the industry Christian fiction is Christian fiction and our books will always be located in the Christian fiction section, salt among salt. I’d love my books to be shelved with the general market books but it ain’t gonna happen.

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  14. Hi Mike. I just wanted to say that I loved your book Scream. Anyway, I am a young author of fantasy/thrillers and I think that those genres are huge right now. I know that Ted Dekker has his books in Chapters, etc. and they are not in the Christian sections. It can happen for you, too! Besides, when more Christian readers catch wind that Christian fiction isn’t restricted to romance stories, they will start shopping at the Christian stores for good reads. I think that the internet is a powerful tool to market books as well. Look at youtube! Thousands of views per day over random ten second videos of kittens. Maybe try some video blogs about your books and see what happens. 🙂

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  1. Pingback: Why “Supernatural Fiction” is Under-Represented in Christian Bookstores

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